WINTHROP — The shadow box of World War II decorations and other military medals piqued the interest of Tim Culbert, a retired Maine State Police detective who also operates a private investigation business.
He saw the collection in a salvage store near Claremont, N.H., on Aug. 3. With a bronze star and little battle stars on ribbons, it was a bargain at $50.
“Geez, that’s the real deal,” he recalled thinking at the time. “That’s $400 in medals alone if someone’s going to part it out.”
That wasn’t what he wanted to do.
“I will make it my mission to find out who he was, what he did, and keep it in a place of honor,” he pledged to his Facebook friends that day, encouraging them to follow the story.
Culbert comes from a family with 16 veterans — including a nephew and wife still on active duty — and he was determined to find out why so much history ended up for sale.
About a month later, Culbert drove 500 miles round-trip from Winthrop to meet the man’s son, see the soldier’s photo and learn the rest of the story.
“This guy was a challenge,” Culbert said.
Norman C. Haugsrud enlisted Sept. 28, 1944, in Manchester, N.H., according to Sullivan County, N.H., Archives Military Records.
In World War II, Haugsrud was an infantryman with Company C, 345th Regiment, 87th Division, Third U.S. Army, and saw battle in the Rhineland and elsewhere.
Haugsrud received the Bronze Star for his role in the December 1944-to-January 1945 Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest, Belgium, where German forces tried and failed to split the Allied forces in two.
“It was a horrible time with winter cold, rationing of food and extreme conditions,” Cutler said. “For that I salute him.” Haugsrud later served as a military police officer at a prisoner-of-war enclosure at Kojo Island, Korea, from 1950 to 1951. He was a corporal then.
Culbert said that gave him a kinship with Haugsrud because Culbert had been a military police officer in the Air Force in the Vietnam era, from 1974 to 1978.
Like the rest of his family, Haugsrud was born and raised in Claremont, N.H.
He died there too, on June 15, 2007, at age 81. In civilian life, he had been an electrician, and his brother, Norman, was a career firefighter in the town.
That’s why Culbert wants to return Haugsrud’s medals to his hometown.
“The bittersweet part of this story is the son,” Culbert said. “He’s the last of the Haugsruds.”
The shadow box was sold because the son needed the money. The son gave Culbert his father’s photo from World War II, telling him, “When I’m gone, there’s no one left.” He told Culbert that his father was proud of his military service, and the son was grateful Culbert was preserving the record.
He gave Culbert his father’s walking stick. “You can have this because you’re the last man standing,” the son said.
Culbert, 56, promised to do a new shadow box that would contain Haugsrud’s father’s medals and his photo and donate it to the New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, where Haugsrud had been a longtime member.
Culbert’s friends chipped in as well. Bob Wing, of American Awards in Augusta, donated the inscribed brass plate; and another person donated the wood for the shadow box.
The plan is to do the presentation to the New Hampshire post around Thanksgiving.
“At least it didn’t get lost in time or somebody threw it away because they didn’t realize the significance.” Culbert said. “When my father turned 80, I put his shadow box together because he never had one, and that made me put mine together for my kids.”
Culbert said he wants to preserve military history for the next generation.
Betty Adams — 621-5631